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Human Rights Council Holds Annual High-Level Panel Discussion on Human Rights Mainstreaming

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22 February 2021

AFTERNOON

22 February 2021

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, focusing on the state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, and the exacerbating effects COVID-19 had had on these efforts.

Speaking as keynote speakers were Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly, António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, and Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The panellists were Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of United Nations Women, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, and Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers affirmed their commitment to eliminate racism, discrimination and all related intolerance, and welcomed the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Other speakers noted that this was a sad commemoration - the COVID-19 pandemic had brought out racial discrimination and disparities in institutions which were designed to protect the global population. Some speakers expressed their concern about the nationalist approach to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The recent rise of nationalism laid bare the fact that the world was not winning the war against the scourge of racism. The intersection of race with gender and disability compounded the plight of persons of African descent.

Speaking in the discussion were the Minister of State and for Foreign Affairs of Portugal, the Minister of Justice of Namibia, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Angola, and the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa. Also speaking were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, Bahamas on behalf of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Qatar, Ecuador, Russian Federation, Philippines, Togo, Indonesia, Senegal, Armenia, Morocco, Iraq, Belgium, Venezuela and Nepal.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia, Franciscans International, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in a joint statement, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Action Canada for Population and Development, and International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations.

Concluding remarks were delivered by Christine Löw, Director of the United Nations Women Liaison Office in Geneva, Altaf Musani, Director for Health Emergency Interventions, World Health Organization, and Ângela Melo, Director for Policies and Programmes, Social and Human Sciences Sector, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 23 February, at 9 a.m. when it will hold its high-level biennial panel discussion on the question of death penalty.

Opening Statement by the President

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Council, welcomed all to the annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, held pursuant to resolution 16/21, to promote the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system. The theme of this year’s panel was “The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these efforts”. She welcomed keynote speakers and panellists.

Keynote Statements

VOLKAN BOZKIR, President of the General Assembly, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had laid bare the pre-existing vulnerabilities facing the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups. Despite a landmark political declaration in 2019, universal health coverage had not yet been achieved, and 100 million people had been pushed into extreme poverty as a result of healthcare costs. The twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and its Programme of Action was a moment of reckoning and all had to be honest when discussing where they had fallen short of the commitments made in 2001. In this Decade of Action, all had to recognise that they could not achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda whilst racism and discrimination persisted. The General Assembly would convene a debate on the Mid-Term Review of the International Decade for People of African Descent and seek to finalise an agreement on the modalities and format of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, welcomed the discussion on the fight against racism and discrimination. The rot of racism was corroding institutions, social structures and everyday life. Mr. Guterres noted that all must reject racism, as it was further enflamed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Common values of equality, non-discrimination and respect were fundamental to building a better world with a new social contract after the pandemic. Societies were becoming more multi-ethnic and diversity was not a threat. Individual identities must be respected, ensuring meaningful access to services, accountability and justice with no discrimination. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represented a road map for a more inclusive world.

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that 20 years ago, States had met in Durban in a newly free South Africa to reject racism. The ensuing Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had created a new framework, urging States and law enforcement agencies to eliminate racial profiling and requiring States to address religious intolerances. The COVID-19 pandemic again reminded all of the devastating impacts of racism, demonstrating that racism, discrimination and poverty formed a vicious cycle. Mainstreaming involved all members of the United Nations family. It must help develop far more concerted action from grass roots to parliaments to seriously address systemic discrimination and structural causes of racism.

Statements by the Panellists

PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of United Nations Women, stressed that the Durban Declaration recognized the intersection between race and gender, calling upon States to ensure that the training of public officials and law enforcement officials integrated gender. Women of colour and women had been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They had lost jobs in larger numbers and experienced increased gender-based violence. The fiscal stimulus being made available by governments must not further discriminate against those who needed those resources desperately. The International Women’s Day this year and the Commission on the Status of Women would focus on women’s leadership.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director-General of the World Health Organization, noted that the COVID pandemic had exposed inequalities in all societies, notably impacting the poor, the elderly and minorities, whilst women and girls had been especially impacted. He underlined the leave no one behind pledge of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. To help countries identify health inequalities, the World Health Organization had developed an output scorecard to assist countries in identifying inequalities. In collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization had led work aimed at identifying systemic racial- and ethnic-based discrimination in COVID recovery plans. The World Health Organization was working to address progress in health equality, to ensure equal access for all to treatment and vaccines.

GABRIELA RAMOS, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, stressed that minorities faced worse health outcomes and were also more likely to lose their jobs or their income as a result of the pandemic. Evidence showed that women were also more likely to be impacted by the pandemic. The pandemic had laid bare structural and endemic racism that needed to be addressed, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was working to evidence this, moving to action, and promoting best practice in doing so. A United Nations system wide dialogue on addressing discrimination in COVID recovery plans was planned. In other work, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations was addressing questions of ethics in artificial intelligence, including gender bias in this technology.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers reaffirmed their commitment to eliminate racism, discrimination and all related intolerance, and welcomed the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Implementing effective prohibitive measures to combat racial discrimination was a common duty of all States. Other speakers noted that this was a sad commemoration - the COVID-19 pandemic had brought out racial discrimination and disparities in institutions which were designed to protect the global population. Some speakers expressed their concern about the nationalist approach to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The world must be honest about the ongoing causes of racism and speakers called for reparations for the historic injustices caused to African indigenous peoples, noting there could be no justice without reparations.

Speakers asked the panellists about the measures that States needed to implement to safeguard online spaces and allow for an open exchange of ideas while fighting discrimination. It was important to critically assess all efforts to combat this plight. Speakers expressed hope that 2021 was the year when the world would seek to understand how the people who were affected by the policies instituted by States actually experienced them. Other speakers brought up the fact that indigenous people and migrants were particularly vulnerable, but were also important actors in the fight against climate change, which meant their protection was paramount. Speakers also noted the tragedy of racial discrimination of frontline workers who were fighting to keep everyone healthy during the pandemic.

Concluding Remarks

CHRISTINE LÖW, Director of the United Nations Women Liaison Office in Geneva, called on governments to integrate a gender perspective in all of their work. She was encouraged by the growing support for racial justice, which was grassroots led. International Women's Day in March was a good occasion to celebrate female leadership around the world and take stock of what further steps were needed.

ALTAF MUSANI, Director for Health Emergency Interventions, World Health Organization, thanked all participants, emphasizing that vaccination was not only a health but also a human right imperative and as such in line with the Durban Declaration. There was a need to deliver the promise of universal health coverage.

ÂNGELA MELO, Director for Policies and Programmes, Social and Human Sciences Sector, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said that discriminatory rules had been put in practice, leading to greater inequality of opportunities. One recommendation had to be to remedy the structural gaps so that they could improve the living conditions of those who suffered the most during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic had amplified all existing inequalities.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/02/afternoon-human-rights-council-holds-annual-high-level-panel


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